by John Clarke
Decision and Vision
John Geber first saw Château Tanunda while cycling in the Barossa Valley. The next day he bought it.
John Geber was the guest speaker at the last meeting of the German speaking group Kaffee und Kuchen. He spoke of his background, his career, his move to the Barossa and his vision for the region’s future.
He was born in South Africa, his ancestors being Dutch and German. He began his business career in marketing. As representative of the R J Reynolds Tobacco Company he worked in the United States, Germany and Switzerland. It was in Switzerland he met and married Evelyne. He apologised jokingly that inevitably he was speaking in Swiss German.
He and Evelyne settled in New South Wales, and he joined the Stimorol/Tetley Australia company, marketing chewing gum, coffee and tea. Tea sales were dwindling until he developed the Tetley All-Rounder, a round teabag that resulted in a sales boom.
In 1991 he formed his own company, the Australian Food and Beverage Group. One venture was to sell wines to European supermarkets, and by 2000 he was Australia’s most successful exporter of wine to Continental Europe.
It was in 1998 that he came to the Barossa Valley to buy grapes and saw the dilapidated Château Tanunda. The heritage listed building, when completed a hundred years earlier, had been South Australia’s second largest building and the largest winery in the Southern Hemisphere. He set about renovating, and as the years passed, he became increasingly immersed in the history of the Barossa and passionate about its future.
His vision was not shared by everyone, and he has been involved in very public disputes with state and local governments. He unsuccessfully lobbied for the reopening of the Adelaide-Barossa railway and put forward plans to increase tourism. Less controversial has been his belief that the Barossa with its still strong German roots is in a strong position to develop links, especially benefiting the wine industry, with Germany.
The next Kaffee und Kuchen meeting will be held at the Langmeil Centre, 7 Maria Street, Tanunda on Monday, 26 July, starting at 1pm.